Posts Tagged ‘the radio dept’


Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009

Yet Another Ten Reviews

April 23, 2007

For some reason, this time I ended up reviewing a lot of albums that I love and not so many that I just like a lot or are in the middle. I pulled some of them out of the vaults. I find it easier to praise than to complain, I guess. Some of these are my absolute favorites. I’ll bitch more next time, I promise.

Alice in Chains – MTV Unplugged

This Unplugged concert was, for all intents and purposes, Alice in Chains’ final farewell. There is almost nothing that is not conclusive about this collection of songs, and in some ways it does it’s job very well. Alice in Chains was just screaming for an Unplugged concert, having two acoustic EPs under their belt and an impressive array of softspoken songs alongside their haunting metal. But perhaps there just wasn’t quite enough in the queue for the acoustic treatment. While half of these acoustic takes are absolute treasures, the other half are miscalculated performances of songs that should not have been acoustic in the first place. The renditions of Down in a Hole and Rooster were the only songs appropriate from the bands second album Dirt, and Angry Chair and Would are simply better loud and electric. Frogs probably was not a good choice to include either, nor was Sludge Factory, the name of which lets the listener know it is best played with muddy obnoxious guitars. While these clunkers are present, the rest of the performance is solid. Performances of classics such as Nutshell, Got Me Wrong, and Over Now are among the bands best moments, and unspeakably touching. Some other songs from the Sap and Jar of Flies EPs could have been included, but for the most part the most important cornerstones are hit that should have been hit. Another perk of this show is that the band is in excellent playing condition even after not playing a show for many years, and the guitar sound is as distinct and delicious as many other famous Unplugged shows are known for. The rendition of the unreleased Killer Is Me would have been grounds to buy this in the first place, and it is the perfect closer to the bands career. On one hand some great songs are played here, but the setlist is just not that well thought out. Depending on the listener, this could be either wonderful or bland, thus leaving this to be for the fans only and really a wasted opportunity.

Boards of Canada – Trans Canada Highway

While nothing works effectively as a replacement for a Board of Canada LP, Trans Canada Highway is a more than good way to whet fans appetites. While this is fairly short in terms of new material, it is also easily the best EP Boards of Canada have released yet. Boards of Canada are a band with such scant material that fans delightfully lap up whatever material they can get their hands on. Luckily, this is a solid release and completely consistent despite it’s brevity. Dayvan Cowboy, the head track from The Campfire Headphase, is truly one of the greatest songs Boards of Canada have ever produced, and it is very worthy of being included here as well as being remixed. The remix, however, feels like a completely new song and is not just a throwaway. Trans Canada Highway does almost feel like a miniature BoC LP though, as it almost equally split between longer building signature electronica and short aural vignettes. The two longer new songs, Left Side Drive and Skyliner, are both fantastic and among the bands best. The signature Boards of Canada sound is marginally augmented by a simple matter of experience, and both songs are absolutely gorgeous in every way you love the band to be. Left Side Drive is a great chillout track with a great, steady, varying beat and awesome synthesizers floating in the background. Skyliner is equally as priceless though, layering itself an impressive amount of times and carefully changing the beat in comfortable ways. The two short interludes are both heavenly, otherworldly ambiance that you would expect a group with as much clarity to produce. Trans Canada Highway may simply be a taste of Boards of Canada’s future, but it’s a fantastic EP and a necessary augmentation onto an impressive discography.

Jane’s Addiction – Strays

This really isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. Sure, it doesn’t compare to Nothing’s Shocking or Ritual de lo Habitual, but very few albums do, so what is the point in complaining? People don’t seem to get that they should be thankful that the band came back and did their career justice at all. The album is not as completely standout on a song by song basis, but there are a few of the bands absolute best songs on here. True Nature is the heaviest Perry Ferrel and company have ever been, The Riches is a classic riff that seamlessly transforms into a relaxing segment that is very distinctly Jane’s Addiction, and Just Because and Superhero are very respectable short rockers. All of the other songs are good, just not great. Part of why people complain so much is because these are more aimed at the mainstream, but after doing as much trailblazing as the band did a decade earlier, this is a bit of a relief in some way. The production is solid, but Perry’s voice has deteriorated a little bit and is at his best when he’s really yelling. It’s no question that this is Jane’s Addiction’s worst album and it does not really stand out that much, but it’s a treat that fans will especially love.

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

All things considered, Physical Graffiti was the last Led Zeppelin album that really mattered. And it was a surprise too, considering Houses of the Holy was rather disappointing when compared to the bands earlier numbered albums. Fortunately, the bounceback was in the form of a gargantuan double album around the time that the bands popularity was at it’s height and anticipation was at a record high. The album delivered in any way that a fan could ask for, with as much hard blues as could ever be asked for, and enough new heavy sophistication to keep critics who wanted change and variance happy. The disk delivered as a middle ground between every extreme the band had ever relinquished in. Custard Pie is a shorter lighthearted sexual blues knockout, and In My Time of Dying is a marathon ten minute blues epic. Trampled Underfoot is a danceable organ oriented heavy trance, while Night Flight is shorter guitar pop reminiscent of earlier days. Even Led Zeppelin’s love for eastern music is touched on with Kashmir and In The Light, alongside the pounding dinosaur rock of Houses of The Holy. Surprisingly enough, yet another middle ground is reached when one considers that the album was about half full of older unreleased tracks and half new material. The result of all of these factors convening is a colossal smorgesborg for fans of hard rock, and not just Led Zeppelin either, but a wider audience. You could even say this album shows the band in their absolute prime, and although it may never surpass the popularity of IV or II, Physical Graffiti is a grand album and anything but a let down.

Luna – Bewitched

Although Luna’s momentous worth should truly be judged by the span of their long career, their most respectable effort, Bewitched, should not be overlooked. The album not only defined the bands sound for many great albums to come, but presented it with unmatched consistency. The mood that the pleasant dreampop group always tried to convey was a sleepy melodic dreamscape, and if there is one kind of dream that people love to have, they are dreams of love. The impressive aspect of not only this album but Luna in general is that they can do so much with so little; the simple dreamy chords and lullaby bass line gently carry the title track into a definitive sleeping song, and utilizing what could easily be Beatles lyrics, centered around love and wispy attractions. The level of sophistication in the songcraft is also very impressive, and while certain songs like Bewitched and Sleeping Pill may make do with simple strums and reserved beats, others like Great Jones Street and This Time Around boast beautifully spontaneous guitars and complex yet accessible melodies. The album also has two killer openers, setting the mood perfectly. On one hand the more uptempo daytime song California (All The Way) that very well might be the least depressing breakup song ever, and the dropdead gorgeous innocent classic Tiger Lily, that may just make your heart melt. If you have ever wanted a varied collection of top notch dreampop, look no further.

Brian Eno – Another Green World

Essentially, this album was the first venture into the art of synthesizers, loops, and synthetic sounds incorporated into pop music that was easily accessible. And it still stands as an absolutely gorgeous venture even to this day, which makes it even more amazing that it was released in the seventies. Although I hate to quote AMG, the writer of that sites review for this says it best. Another Green World plays like a dream sequence, or at least the ideal dream sequence, of creations both relaxing and structured. The record is almost short lived, and in a way sadly so, because each song almost begs for more time to express itself. This work of art comes in two specific but scattered parts. There are a few melodic pop songs featuring Eno’s pop/rock lyrics that accompany a catchy electronic background. Some of these songs are the compelling St. Elmo’s Fire featuring Robert Fripp on a downright mean guitar, the charming I’ll Come Running, and Sky Saw, which was probably the most out there pop music at the time. The other side of the spectrum are a wealth of amazing instrumental pieces that seem to describe their moods in perfect harmony with their names. In Dark Trees is an unsettling nightmare, Sombre Reptiles is a wonderful natural groove, and The Big Ship might just be Eno’s most gorgeous creation. The final five songs on the album are also to be noted as one of the strongest wrap-ups in pop history, reiterating the defined structure of the album. And while Eno amazes on all of these levels, he keeps up a specific style, which is about what would happen if someone built a time machine and simultaneously mixed the future of pop music with classical aesthetic, as the cover art projects. While Brian Eno may have arguably changed music even more with his ambient series, this was the record that not only pointed in that direction, but also made all of that able to happen. What Brian Eno did with Another Green World inspired a wealth of change in the pop music industry, and if not for it, electronica, ambient, or even structured mood music would not have been possible. So not only did Eno make a fantastic record, but he set the stage of music for years to come. Almost all artists today owe something to Eno, unless they foolishly believe that the studio’s only function is to record what is played and nothing more.

The Radio Dept. – Pulling Our Weight [EP]

Radio Dept.’s follow-up EP to their 2003 full length debut Lesser Matters ended up being more than just affirmation that the band were a one shot deal. The Pulling Our Weight EP ended up trumping an already impressive album of lovely dream-pop with only five songs, all of which are utterly fantastic and indesposable. This EP is the Radio Dept. shedding off whatever weaknesses they may have had and exploding with their full talent much like a blooming flower. The title track is the bands greatest and most representative work. The song seamlessly presents hook after hook over the trademark soft looped drums and shy hushed vocals, and the accompanying music video is a charming work of art on it’s own. The album surprisingly looses no momentum even with the consideration in mind that from the top, there is no where to go but down. A shockingly touching aural poetry is delivered with We Climb The Wired Fences, and I Don’t Need Love I’ve Got My Band is the romantic keystone of the disk and a lovely display of gently cascading guitar solos. The short two minute haiku Someone Else is tropical and relaxing, and the band once again displays their knack of creating an atmosphere with subtle touches without loosing their pop sensibilities. The album is rounded off by what seems to be a shoegaze revival, The City Limit. The song carries along a wonderful soundscape and many more beautiful melodies to contemplate. This is truly one of the most accomplished works of pop music produced in years and the Radio Dept. may well be the best band indie band out of Sweeden ever. Pulling Our Weight EP is a masterpiece of underspoken dream-pop, a perfect culmination of everything this wonderful band has to offer, and a grand sign of what the future may hold. One of the best EPs ever, for sure.

Silversun Pickups – Carnavas

Silversun Pickups’ full length debut has been pinned as a lot of things. They say takes influence from certain alternative bands of the nineties a lot, but in truth this album is fairly unique. But being unique does not always make you fantastic, as Carnavas proves. The song with the most pinnable source is the opening Melatonin, a pretty obvious My Bloody Valentine rip, but it is actually a very good song despite it’s unoriginality. But if unoriginality was the only problem with this album, it would simply be a damn good album for nostalgic alt rockers. But the problems dig deeper than that. The mood here is despondent, which is fine, but unfortunately the theme does not develop throughout the near hour it lasts. The concluding moments of this pretty much sum it up. “We’re always going to cross the finish line while everybody wants to run and hide, but now it’s too late.” Whatever opportunity that Carnavas had to be concluded beautifully was botched. Sound wise this album just feels tired. This could have been a great shoegaze record, but the drums are too loud, the guitars are too subdued (this problem is relieved if you REALLY crank it), and the vocals are awkwardly miscalculated. The vocalist kind of sounds like s/he wants to scream like Dave Grohl but doesn’t quite have the guts to actually come out and do it, and if they did it would just be painful. The upshot is that these guys can write some very good songs. Lazy Eye has gotten some significant radio play for a reason, Rusted Wheel is a very contemplative outing, and some of the albums first half can be very fun. But the fact that these people know how to write music is unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that they simply cannot produce it well quite yet. If you have heard some of these songs and liked them you will find comfort in the rest of the record, but it still really isn’t that memorable. As imaginative as these songs are, they feel like wasted ammunition, and I can only hope that the future holds good things for these possibly talented but misguided musicians.

Tool – Ænima

Tool’s second album Ænima is a significant leap forward from an already great album, and it secured the bands fanbase while delivering one of the ninties more compelling metal albums. Like all of Tool’s albums, this takes time to open up. At first it seems passive and less forceful than the aggressive and fast-paced Undertow, but Ænima is truly an informing listen. And simultaneously driving too. On one hand the album delivers a radio hit with Stinkfist, but after that the listener is plunged right into the middle of the issues and ideals that are to be put accross. As opposed to being stated explicitly, these themes are to be realized after close inspection. Even then, fans of Undertow will love this album. Songs like Eulogy and Forty Six & 2 are alternately introspective and uncompromising. And yet the album still rocks out while delivering it’s complex and important messages. Hooker With A Penis is a short rocker (at least for Tool), and the title track is more rock solid than anything off of this album or Undertow. And the album can get progressive too. Eulogy, Pushit, and Third Eye are all huge, interesting pieces that are expanded on in complex ways that only the attentive ear can decifer quickly. When I first bought this album I didn’t like it at all, but after giving it a chance and looking for what makes this so popular, every song on this album opened up. This really isn’t inviting, as far as the general style goes or the colorful yet disturbing filler, but this is a fantastic album and it really put Tool on the map for a reason.

Cocteau Twins – Treasure

Treasure is Cocteau Twins’ most popular and influential record, but it’s questionable whether it is truly the best. Undeniably this is the Twin’s at their stylistic peak, delivering the goods with a greater and more constructive precision than ever before. These melodies are, for the most part, touchingly beautiful and accessible. This is really the breakthrough music that the band had been working towards, although the Spangle Maker EP was geared towards the same thing with significantly less success. The difference lies in the vocals, and Treasure is Liz Fraser’s vocal peak. The most obvious and unique charm of this record is Liz Fraser’s new vocal style. She no longer even tries to sing words but instead sings in unintelligible sounds thus extending her voice into what is now truly a musical instrument. Side A is quite simply perfect, and all five songs are beautiful and essential. Ivo is perfectly refined nuanced poetic dream-pop and one of the bands absolute best. The following Lorelei is misleading. The song has unbelievably beautiful hooks, a quality that the band were not known for, but if you turn up the volume on this, spontaneous eargasms will follow. Beatrix is as regal as it is fresh even over twenty years later, Persephone has deliciously dirty guitar cutting accompanied by another flawless vocal performance, and Pandora (For Cindy) is a lovely, relaxing, and almost tropical song that points directly to the bands next album, the beautiful Victorialand. An album with this much momentum seems unstoppable, and it almost is, but the unfortunate flaw of Treasure is that Side B derails a bit. Or maybe it just seems like it does because some of the songs aren’t as standout as those that preceeded them, but in any case it feels like the album runs out of energy. Amelia is very good upon closer inspection, and Aloysius is just as priceless as anything on Side A. But Cicely feels like a revisit to Persephone only with less enthusiasm, Otterley has almost no melody at all (although it is pretty ambiance), and Donimo is a vocal misfire. Even considering the fact that some of these songs are not quite as priceless as others, the album still stands in quality and this may well be the Twin’s best, most moving album.


The Radio Dept. – Pet Grief

March 26, 2007

I first heard Pet Grief around when it was released last year and for some reason I didn’t like it. Maybe it was because everyone I knew who heard it didn’t like it, so I kind of threw it on the backburner and never gave it a legit listen. But I put this in my CD player a few days ago and it totally opened up for me. What a great feeling, to play an album you thought was bad only to realize that it is really great. It’s true, this is a change for The Radio Dept, but it’s not necessarily bad. The biggest difference is in the mood. Most of the songs are created in the same signature Radio Dept. way. They all have programmed soft beats, wispy vocals put through the same effects that were employed on Lesser Matters and the two following great EPs, and some nifty synthesizers and shining guitars that make the whole production shine. But the mood here is now a little more contemplative and sometimes melancholy. I think it’s a matter of preference here, and I seem to enjoy this as much as Lesser Matters now. Lesser Matters almost had more of a happy go lucky down to earth feeling to it. Only given close inspection does this album really open up.

The first track, It’s Personal, may be a bit misleading. It really threw me off at first. It’s a midtempo melancholy instrumental that makes good use of strings that are seen through the rest of the album, and the beats are also very soft and relaxing like previous work from the band, all dressed up in heavy echo. But to be honest, it’s probably the saddest song on the album, so you can rest easy knowing that the mood doesn’t carry through. It would probably be alright if it did though, because this song is very good, but it would be a tiring album to listen to if every song was this lugubrious, The next song, Pet Grief, is a startling disconnection to the previous theme. I might even say it’s the best song the band has made yet, and I’m a pretty big fan of Pulling Our Weight and Against The Tide. The song starts out with a segment of extremely well subdivided beats and a breathtaking swirl of reverb that launches into one of the best pop songs of ’06. It’s a really touching spring themed tune. It has a fantastic bassline and an impressive lineup of strings as well. The lyrics are lovely and they pretty much speak for themselves; how does one best go about dealing with friends in grief? It actually answers the question pretty well.

After hearing just those two songs for the first time I was truly misguided. I felt like those were two of the most individual songs the band has ever made, and I was expecting a continuously differential record. What I focused on was how certain themes carry on through the album and the means of making songs doesn’t necessarily change all that much, and I failed to see the individual power in each song. The hooks aren’t as immediate as on Pet Grief, but they are still there if you are willing to give them a chance. When the sad mood returns, it luckily isn’t botched, because if it was it would probably ruin the rest of what the album had to say. This is a bit of a shaky structure as it is, but I Wanted You To Feel The Same is really genuinely touching. What seems to be the most popular song on the album is also a bit sad, The Worst Taste In Music. It is accompanied with an interesting music video, and The Radio Dept. is a band with an already outstanding lineup of music videos. If you have not seen the video for Pulling Our Weight, I really recommend you do. But once again, the album isn’t all despondent for these pseudo shoegaze revivalists. Every Time is a sweet pop song with as much sonic sheen as Keen on Boys, and A Window is an uplifting summer urban love song.

I’m just so… Shocked. I can’t believe I didn’t like this before. There is really only one comparatively weak song in my opinion and that is Tell, but beyond that every song on this album is as priceless a gem as any of the bands other material is. This album is as much of a joy to listen to as Lesser Matters and perhaps even more rewarding. It clocks in at a very short length, around thirty five minutes, but every minute of it is sweet candy. The Radio Dept. is one of the best new indie bands for dreampop fans to dabble in, and one of the most impressive acts to come out of Sweden in a while. And they are still at it too. According to their website, they recently canceled their European tour due to financial constraints, but they are also doing work on a follow up to Pet Grief, as of yet unnamed. I’d love to see these guys live, as I’m told they are really amazing. They have some free MP3s of their music at their webpage, including a full live show. This band is definitely worth checking out and Pet Grief shows some significant growth in the right direction, and it will surely be a joy to watch this band continue to make material.


The Radio Dept. – Lesser Matters

December 6, 2006

It’s no surprise I found this gem by association of a Sophia Coppola soundtrack. God knows that has happened before. The Lost In Translation soundtrack was a revelation for me, and it pointed me in the direction of My Bloody Valentine (can’t I just go one post without mentioning them?), The Jesus And Mary Chain, and Air, three of my favorite bands now. Hell, the disc practically slapped me on the face and threw me at a completely new scene of music. I haven’t seen Marie Antoinette yet, and the soundtrack hasn’t completely knocked me on my ass partially due to that fact, but it’s nothing to shake a finger at, that’s for sure. It should be noted that the double-disk soundtrack is just as varied as skillfully constructed as it’s predecessor, but once again I can’t really determine it’s worth without seeing the movie. This soundtrack is significantly more aimed at post-punk and stuff from the 80s, specifically Bow Wow Wow, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, and Gang Of Four. But the typically dream-pop elements are here too as usual, and some of the standout songs to me were dreamy little tunes from a band I had never heard of, The Radio Dept.

I soon found out that the group is a Swedish band that recently came out with a new album, Pet Grief, which I now also have. They are sort of dream-pop revivalists, but they have their own style, that much I’m certain of. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head that they rip on, which is a pretty unusual quality for a band, that is, that significant an amount of originality. To be sure, this is the bands best album to date, their debut LP. If I were to describe the sound of the music in as few words as possible, they would be the following: dreamy, warm, reserved, honest, comforting. I probably couldn’t use less words. They are just that distinctive. The first thing that will stick out to any listener will be the rather programmed beats, the blanketing bass, and the quiet vocals. Considering how easy it should be for these themes to get boring in the span of a full album, the band makes sure they don’t need to repeat themselves and make sure the listener gets everything they should get out of this experience. After all, if you want to make a splash on one album, make it your first. These guys do, no shit in the middle.

But that’s not to say that this album is revelatory or anything. You probably won’t see any bands ever taking too much influence from the Radio Dept., but that doesn’t stop it from being as individual is it is. It’s a great indie rock release, fantastically comfortable, and not overly extravagant. The songs particularly on this album set the sound in stone. It feels very reliably sythesized, not too many big surprises or anything, and occasionally a very pretty ear-treat to make the songs glisten to their utmost. The song most true to the bands style is 1995. Starting off with a very synthetic beat and simple guitar strums, the chord progressions and vocal direction isn’t too hard to predict or anything, and the chorus is heartwarming and dissonant. A lot f the bands sound thrives on subtle detailing. There are various guitar parts to brighten to mood and synthesizers doing unobtrusive but ultimately impressive work. A cross-refference to this tune is clearly It’s Been Eight Years, which actually comes earlier on the album and refers to the time difference between 1995 and the albums year of release, 2003. You can hear the contrast actually, and this song almost feels like it is hinting at the things that it will later say in 1995 without really leaving too much left undone.

The track on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack is worth a mention as well. The somewhat more upbeat and fun Keen On Boys plays like a playful introduction to a day of mystical and dream-like fun. A combination of gliding vocal prowess and echo, layered guitar fuzz, and soft beats makes for an effect that I’m not sure the makers were readily aware of…When I first heard this song, I immediately thought of a steamy shower room or a sauna. But the lyrics suggest it might actually be about a gay guy. Listen to this one and you will hear what I mean either way. Where Damage Isn’t Already Done is an even more upbeat and straightforward song, and a lovely introduction to the bands sound after the opening filler. Two other favorites are Bus, a daydreaming suggestion, and Slottet #2, a wonderful piece of summer atmosphere. But the album never really misses a beat and stays really consistant all the way through, and each song is quite enjoyable and fun.

This is an album you can come back to and feel more comfortable and less bored with than your typical dreampop. The very nature of the music is relaxing and non-intrusive, and if you want to chill to some great tunes that aren’t unrealistic or depressing, this is your ticket. Really, try it out. Their new album Pet Grief is cool too, but this is clearly superior and more accessible. Give it a shot.